Buckley (They Eat Puppies, Don't They?, 2012, etc.) offers stylishness and nimble wordplay in this latest collection of (generally) lightweight ruminations on contemporary culture and its foibles.
The author caroms from personal history and travel to criticism and politics, wielding a sense of humor that pirouettes from gentle to sardonic. His subjects sometimes seem too trivial to merit inclusion, and his takes on these absurdities are amusing but instantly forgettable. Yet such is the nature of the beast; most of these brief, previously published magazine essays never were intended to be more than mildly diverting, and a blithe tenor is arguably the right approach in skewering some of the more outlandish affronts. At the other end of the spectrum, seeming almost out of place in this volume, is his stark chronicle of touring Auschwitz. The strongest chapter of the book is “Farewells,” featuring Buckley's posthumous remembrances of such longtime friends as Joseph Heller and Christopher Hitchens, not to mention his father William F. Buckley's celebrated nemesis, Gore Vidal. These pieces are especially revealing, often touching, and find Buckley dispensing with his breezy tone for a timbre that is much more sober. Particularly poignant is his piece on Hitchens, a man he revered. Given their due in the “Criticism” section, among others, are Graham Greene, P.G. Wodehouse and Ray Bradbury. Buckley's outstanding introduction to The Stories of Ray Bradbury (2010) is a richly deserved paean to one of the most influential writers of the late 20th century. Though a clear and self-deprecating writer, Buckley sometimes wears his erudition on his sleeve, echoing his late father's penchant for extravagant polysyllabic effusions—e.g., “chrestomathies,” “diapasons,” “froideurs” and “vernissages.” Secure a dictionary.
Prone to benign mischief, a literary twinkle in the eye, Buckley nails his targets more often than not yet likewise has fun with unexpected asides, like the “excruciatingly chaste” plays of the otherwise notorious Marquis de Sade.